TAMPA — Since Sunday's 41-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Bucs talk has been about sideline clashes with coaches, an anonymous player suggesting the staff should head back to college and fans ready to toss quarterback Josh Freeman overboard.
Coach Greg Schiano responded Monday by giving players the day off, then dismissed many of the swirling issues.
"The team is disappointed in what we did," he said of the Bucs' fourth straight defeat, the first by more than one score this season. "Whether it was all pretty or perfect, but 13 games, either we won or it came down to a one possession game where we could've won the game … and that's competitive football. Then we go out and we throw our first clunker.
"…We've got a lot of good young players and we have some experienced really good players. Now, we've got to get over it."
Shortly after the Bucs (6-8) were eliminated from playoff contention, Schiano said he addressed the team Sunday night and acknowledged it might benefit from consecutive days off heading into the final games, Sunday at home against the Rams and Dec. 30 at Atlanta.
"Why the day off? Look, you'd be naive to say the dynamics of things haven't changed now that we're no longer in the playoff hunt," Schiano said. "We have two, one-game seasons coming up. We got everything discussed that we had to discuss and we need to get better Wednesday getting ready for St. Louis."
Schiano fielded questions about a sideline spat between assistant Bryan Cox and linebacker Adam Hayward during the game and a report on profootballtalk,com quoting an anonymous player saying, "Can we send these coaches back to college?''
As for the Cox-Hayward feud, Schiano said, "That is a heat of the moment deal that's behind us. We are moving forward. It is kind of like in your own family. It is never perfect, right? You really don't need everybody to see it on (TV). That is not the best thing either, but it is behind us."
Schiano was dismissive of possible rancor developing between some players and coaches, many of whom came from Rutgers.
"Well, I already graduated, so I do not need to go back to college," Schiano said. "I wasn't a great student, but I got the degree so that I don't need.
"I don't sense any of that. Anonymous sources are anonymous sources. So, I feel we've got a group of men in that locker room that are together, understand where we're going, know this is going to be a championship organization again and we're all working hard."
Freeman said players are sticking together with the staff.
"We are unified," Freeman said. "I think that we still have a lot of young components, we still have a first-year system. We had some success. But at the same time, we've got to find a way to take it to the next level.
"Judging by the number of guys that are in the building on this off day, I think that mentally guys are not only unified, but heading in the right direction."
Freeman blamed one of the worst games of his career, with four interceptions and a lost fumble, on ''miscommunication'' with receivers.
Schiano said he's not concerned about Freeman because of Freeman's work ethic.
"If Josh Freeman wasn't coming in and just spending all kinds of time here and if I wasn't getting texts and our coaches asking questions at 10 o'clock at night asking about coverages and things like that, then yeah, I'd have reason to be concerned," Schiano said. "But I know everybody goes through better times, lesser times. But I also know those who persevere, those who work, tend to their knitting, they're going to fine. Josh is tending to his knitting, so we're going to be fine."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.